A bit of unsolicited advice: Do yourself a favor and get some solid mentors. People you can trust, who really have your back, want to see you succeed, who will tell you the truth and who will see things in you that you can't see in yourself. Be honest with them, let them get to know you. Because there will come a time when you will have some big, difficult, decisions to make and you will want and need them in your corner. They don't always have to be in your profession and I have found that the ones that stick aren't relationships you can force. You will know your people. Find them, nurture the relationships, bring something to the table yourself and be willing to listen and learn.
It has taken me a long time to write this letter. A year to be exact. Something about the act of writing it means that I really have to say good-bye. I must admit, I am still not ready to do that.
The day that you died, I cried harder than I ever have. I cried so hard that I could not breathe. I was gasping for air. The same horrible disease that tried to take my life, took yours. I still cannot believe it.
There have been so many times in the past few months that I wanted to ask for your advice or share some good news with you. You were always so good about celebrating with me. Your passing has given me the courage to do things I would not have done before. I moderated a live town hall and wanted to call and ask you how you prepared, how you stayed calm, how you dealt with the criticism. I kept the program from your funeral, with the picture of your beautiful smile, in the folder with me on stage. I knew you would give me courage.
I’ve read that you’ve said you wanted to bring “light not heat” to important topics. You lit up everyone else, like a candle that lights other candles without losing its flame. As I looked around your memorial service I saw lots of lights. Person after person spoke about how you made time for them, you encouraged them, you sent emails and texts, you remembered to ask about kids and parents. You did the same for me, and I wondered how in the world you had time to do that when your life was so busy? Someone at the memorial said, “She made time.”
After your funeral, while guests greeted each other with hugs outside of the church, one of our former Washington Week colleagues looked at me and said: “You are one of the chosen ones.” I nodded. I knew what he meant. It’s not that anyone chose me, it’s that I was one of the many, many lucky ones whom you mentored and built up. One of the many who feel we need to do something with that gift.
One of my colleagues wrote: “Sometimes when the torch is passed, we are not yet ready to take it up.” That is true. But I know that I don’t have to strive to be you. That is impossible. There will never be anyone like you. Ever. But, my goal is to try to live up to what you modeled for me. High standards, hard work, persistence, courage, integrity, mentorship and making time for others. And also fun. You were also just fun. You touched and inspired so many lives that none of us has to carry the torch alone.
I had dinner with a friend who is yet another of your mentees and she said she followed the same pattern I did after your death. Intense sadness and uncontrollable sobbing. Then, she got up and said to herself, “Let’s get to work.” I imagine all the others in this country and world who did the same thing and what a difference we will all make because of you. What an amazing legacy.
I will always cherish our time together at Washington Week and our relationship long after. Thank you for your kindness, your love and your support.